BIR Amsterdam Convention - Plastics Committee: Low prime prices prompt worrying shift away from recycled raw materials
Regulation is required not only to create stability in supply and demand for recycled raw materials but also to assist the further development of the recycling industry, insisted BIR Plastics Committee Chairman Henk Alssema of Netherlands-based Vita Plastics in his introductory comments to the body’s meeting in Amsterdam on May 24.
The market was currently under pressure amid rapidly declining demand for recycled materials. Mr Alssema indicated that many companies were using the opportunity afforded by low prime prices to abandon the recycled option. Availability of cheap alternatives to recycled material were “throwing the loop”, agreed Sally Houghton of the Plastic Recycling Corporation of California.
A similar point was made by the meeting’s guest speaker Caroline van der Perre, Managing Director of Belgium-based compounding, extrusion and recycling specialist RAFF Plastics. After using recycled material for years in many cases, “some companies are now switching back to primary”, she stated. “We have invested a lot to increase our recycling capacity and now we are struggling to keep all our lines running.”
Having identified rPET as the only resin to have decoupled from prime owing to recycled content mandates, Max Craipeau of China-based Greencore Resources Ltd lamented: “Even with those mandates, you see the brands switching back to virgin PET.” Former BIR Plastics Committee Chairman Surendra Patawari Borad of Gemini Corporation NV in Belgium expressed concern that, despite all the focus on the subject, the plastics recycling rate “is in single digits - and it’s coming down”.
Winner of the WOMED Award 2022 recognizing Belgium’s leading female entrepreneur of the year, Ms Van der Perre used her guest presentation to identify means of improving conditions for plastics recyclers, including standardization of the legal framework within Europe and an extension of the obligations to use recycled materials. Mr Craipeau observed: “Global minimum recycled content legislation would definitely help all resins.”
Ms Van der Perre also called for encouragement of mechanical recycling despite the recent proliferation of chemical recycling ventures. Having questioned the sustainability credentials of chemical recycling when compared to the mechanical alternative, she expressed concern that these ventures were “disturbing the markets” in their pursuit of material. Mr Patawari Borad cast doubt on the viability of many chemical recycling projects, with Ms Houghton adding: “I’m still to be convinced it will actually work on a large scale.”
BIR’s Deputy Director for Trade & Environment Alev Somer confirmed that the environmental credentials of chemical recycling had been a topic of recent debate at the United Nations Basel Convention and had been earmarked for further discussion once more data were available.
Ms Somer also provided delegates with an update on BIR’s participation in: efforts to develop a Global Plastics Treaty targeted to be signed in 2025: and the United Nations Plastic Waste Partnership where forums were being proposed to exchange know-how on the regulatory and technical aspects of establishing extended producer responsibility schemes.
Turning finally to the OECD document “Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060”, Ms Somer noted that annual plastics use worldwide was projected to grow from 460 million tonnes in 2019 to 1.231 billion tonnes by 2060 and that waste generation was therefore on course to outpace improvements in waste management.